The Secret Rivals (1976)

Directed by
Indie kung fu royalty
Reviewed by Simon on 2023-12-17

Took a break from Shaw Brothers Sundays to catch up on some indie kung fu, something of a blind spot for me because so much of it only survives in dubbed form, and I really don't like watching dubs.

Secret Rivals is one of the more well-known indie films of the era, coming as it did from Seasonal Film Corporation, the company that triggered a seismic shift in martial arts cinema in the late 1970's, and directed by its founder and legendary producer Ng See-Yuen. It can even be found with the original Mandarin dub, albeit only attached to a low resolution scan of a beat-up print.

The film was shot on a budget in Korea, with a limited set of locations and a cast of then-unknown faces - cast more for their athletic skills than their acting ability. That's what they're there for though, the story is a mostly uncomplicated tale of heroes, villains and revenge and can at best be said to not suck, but it provides reasons for the various fighters to face off and demonstrate their skills - and they are pretty formidable.

Wong Tao, John Liu and Hwang Jang-Lee are all extremely capable, the latter two in particular being legendary for their kicks, Ng See-Yuen and team focus on showcasing the fighters power and agility, with clear camera work and no gimmicks.

The template would prove to be a winner, with the low-cost productions allowing the studio to take more chances with unknown or unproven talent, such as Yuen Wo-Ping, Jackie Chan and Tsui Hark, who would completely transform the Hong Kong film industry over the next decade.

There's little evidence of that seismic shift to be found here, in Secret Rivals, but it did in some ways set the ball rolling.